16 April 2010
Re: Homemark Slim Coffee / HA Steinman / 12988
Judge King’s ruling, received on the 26th March 2010, which reinstated Dr Beverley Summers status as a “credible expert”, in spite of evidence that, among other errors, she had substantiated after the fact, two products ruled on and banned by the USA Federal Trade Commission following scientific scrutiny.
Judge King has therefore referred back to the ASC, for re-assessment, the claims for Slim Coffee which Dr Summers has substantiated, and which Prof Roy Jobson and I argue are insufficient to support the product’s claims. (Prof Jobson had prepared, at my request, documentary evidence in preparation for possible arbitration.)
I would therefore ask the ASC to consider the following.
Dr Beverley Summers substantiation is for studies that evaluated the ingredient Caralluma fimbriata. I have argued that the studies are conflicting and insufficient to make any claims for this ingredient. However, more significant is the fact that Slim Coffee contains a number of other ingredients, including caffeine/guarana, and there is not a single study that has examined the specific combination of ingredients in Slim Coffee.
In the ASA ruling, Slender Caps / HA Steinman / 14726, the following is stated”
“In terms of Clause 4.1 of Section II, the respondent should have submitted verification of these claims from an independent and credible expert in the relevant field. It is also an established principle that the Directorate will only accept product-specific substantiation. In other words, the respondent should supply independent verification from an expert in this field to unequivocally state that its product, as a whole, when consumed at the recommended dose, will deliver the claimed effects.”
Similar statements were made in the following rulings: Slender Max Tincture / HA Steinman / 14796; Memoregain For Your Brain / HA Steinman / 14800
In the Sunshine D Lite / Unilever / 14790 ruling, the following points are made:
“It is trite that substantiation should relate to the actual product being advertised, and the ASA will not accept ingredient-based substantiation for general claims about the product as a whole (see, for example, Aquafresh Iso-Active / Colgate Palmolive / 14496 (11 January 2010) and Memoregain for Your Brain / HA Steinman / 14800 (18 January 2010)).”
I further argue that Dr Summers has not fulfilled the conditions required by Section I (Introduction), Clause 4.25, which states unequivocally that “’[S]cientific substantiation’ means substantiation based on statistically valid data, employing a validated, proven scientific method and applicable to the claim being made.” In other words, not only has she NOT evaluated the product as a whole, she failed to demonstrate that her substantiation was based on statistically valid data which employed a validated, proven scientific method applicable to the claim being made.
Indeed for both studies their durations were insufficient.
There is no scientific evidence at all what effect the other ingredients in Slim Coffee in the concentrations contained in the product (including caffeine) will have on the efficacy of Caralluma Fimbriata (CF). It is a well known and significant fact that many interactions can occur between ingredients affecting the final product’s efficacy.
Furthermore, I argue that even if the claims for the product as a whole could have been proven, that the product places the average consumer at a major disadvantage as a result of their naivety for scientific and cost-benefit interpretation.
Cost of using Slim Coffee to match the dosage of CF over a two month period as per studies:
1st study – no weight loss, used 500 mg CF twice a day
2nd study – weight loss claims, used 500 mg of CF before each meal, i.e., 1500 mg per day.
Dr Summers argument that CF claims are valid are based on these two studies:
- A clinical study on CF alone (not Slim Coffee), by Professor Kurpad and published in a peer-reviewed journal, that found “no statistical weight-loss but a potential “trend” to weight-loss using CF over a period of two months. (1.94 kg (4.27lbs) vs 1.1 kg (2.48 lbs) was lost over 8 weeks)
- A clinical study on CF alone (not Slim Coffee), by Dr Lawrence, and NOT published or reviewed by a single peer-reviewer, and conducted on behalf of the company, found the CF resulted over two months in: “Out of 18 candidates in the test group, 15 lost weight (range 1-9 pounds). Eleven lost approximately 6 pounds and four lost one to two pounds. Two patient’s weights remained static and one gained 17 pounds (found to be non compliant)” [Dr Summers’ substantiation] (6 pounds = 2.7 kg; 2 pounds = 0.9 kg)
Therefore does Dr Summers, as a pharmacist, state unequivocally that she supports the use and claims for this product knowing that the average consumer will have to spend R1,799.40 over two months to potentially reach the weight loss in the second study (assuming the labelled amounts of CF are correct), and that and that ±40% (7 of 18) would either lose neglible or no weight? The maximum weight loss was 6 pounds (This works out at around 2.7 kg meaning that a consumer who loses maximally would pay up to R666.00 per kilogram lost! I would argue that the claims made related to the costs are highly misleading and not honestly reflected, i.e., consumers would be duped into purchasing the product without realising or anticipating the high costs involved in achieving a desirable outcome. For reasons of non-disclosure of pricing (or being misleading and dishonest in terms of pricing), the claims for this product should be ruled against. This example is akin to previous complaints made to the ASA and ruled in favour of, where airport taxes for flights advertised was not disclosed, or for advertised prices that did not include VAT or other hidden costs, e.g., car purchasers. To elaborate, even if the science did support the claims for the mix of ingredients, that purchasers of Simply Slim will have no knowledge that to “benefit” from this product that they are required to use the product for at least two months and that this will result in a minimal outlay of R1,799.40. Surely this is morally and ethically indefensible and markedly misleading to the average consumer?
I argue that these reasons are sufficient to rule against the product, but if the ASC is left in any doubt, I ask that section 9.3 of the Procedural Guide of the Code of Advertising Practice be invoked, which states that “[T]he Advertising Standards Committee shall, at its discretion, be entitled to co-opt up to four persons who have expertise in the subject matter of the complaint.” I would recommend that at least a Clinical Pharmacologist and a Registered Dietician from reputable academic institutions be co-opted.